Tuesday's slate of candidates


There are no contested races on the school ballot, but there are some hotly contested ones for town offices.


Nicholas Mercauto is challenging incumbent Carl Thibodeau for selectman. We endorse Thibodeau and applaud Mercauto’s youthful enthusiasm. But, as we have recommended to many candidates entering politics for the first time, the place to start and learn about about the town is with the budget committee or the planning board. He has little chance taking on a well-respected and liked incumbent like Thibodeau for the town’s top elected post. 


We endorse Bill Barbin in the three-way race for police commissioner. After many years on the commission, David Doherty was ousted by voters, and there is no indication they will reinstate him. Bruce Ela has a stellar reputation as a former state trooper, but we believe it is in the public’s best interest for its commission to be composed of members who have experience outside of law enforcement. 


The most controversial race is for two open seats for the board of library trustees. The Conway Public Library serves the entire town, of course, but it is also the most prominent institution in Conway Village. No one better represents the village and Conway natives than Bill Marvel and Mark Hounsell.


Both have long, personal and professional connections to the library, and it makes sense that they remain trustees. They run a tight budget and were on the right side of the attempted purge of staff three years ago. But, boy, are they dangerously close to losing popular support if they continue to play politics as they did with what we believe was a straw-man issue: the rumored proposal of issuing free library cards to employees of Conway businesses.


Three people are vying for two three-year terms on the Conway Planning Board. We endorse Sarah Verney and incumbent Ray Shakir. At 27 years of age, Verney represents the next generation of community leaders. She’s capable and enthusiastic and deserves encouragement. With a lifetime of experience in construction management, Shakir is a proven asset and valuable voice on the board.



Vote for a governor

If you’re voting in the Republican primary today, we encourage — more like implore — you to cast a ballot for one of the governors, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush or John Kasich. 


Not only do they have the executive experience in government that Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio lack, but any of them would give Republicans a better chance to retake the White House. 


Though it’s become a dirty word, they by contrast are more moderate, and New Hampshire has an obligation to give one, two or all three of them enough momentum to continue on.


Why not Trump, Rubio or Cruz?


In a nutshell, Trump doesn’t have the temperament, Rubio lacks experience, and Cruz is a widely disliked extreme evangelical. 


None would have enough crossover appeal to women, minorities or moderate independents to win the general election. 


Trump is a paradox. He resonates with people because he doesn’t talk like a politician, yet his behavior is unbecoming of even a snarky 14-year-old. Strength is when you show control and discipline under pressure. To imagine a president of the United States calling people stupid, dopey and weak, or making fun of the disabled, boggles the mind. 


Rubio was outed by Christie at the GOP debate at St. Anselm College on Saturday for being what he is — slick and programmed. Back when he dropped out of the race, Rick Santorum threw his support behind the Florida senator and was asked to name one of Rubio's accomplishments. Embarrassingly, he couldn’t come up with one. 


Cruz is disliked by literally every one of his Senate colleagues, partly because he almost single-handedly caused the disastrous government shutdown in 2013.


His idea to carpet bomb Syria would be proposed only by an extreme evangelical who believes the second coming of Christ will happen at the end of world — Armageddon—in the Middle East. To extreme believers, all-out war is not only acceptable but, more frighteningly, inevitable.  


The Conway Sun has endorsed Bush. Like Bush, Christie and Kasich have solid records of accomplishments in their home states of Florida, New Jersey and Ohio. And they have done it by sticking to their principles while using bipartisan approaches that are woefully needed in Washington. 


Iowa caucus-goers are dominated by evangelicals, and in the last three election cycles chose Cruz, Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Like the two he follows, Cruz is also destined to fade away as the primaries move to more diverse states. 


Voters eventually will wake up and recognize Trump as just the showman he is and Rubio as a programmed, smooth-talking, underachieving first-time senator. 


New Hampshire has a long tradition of picking candidates who are electable in general elections, and for Republicans they are Bush, Kasich and Christie.




Clinton to win





For Democrats, it’s this simple.  


Follow your heart and vote for the aspirational senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, then get smoked in the general election, or use your head and check the box for Hillary Clinton, a candidate who may not excite you but offers a far better chance at keeping a Democrat in the White House.


That Sanders, a grump-ish, old-ish guy with a New York accent from a tiny, all-white state who stumps for more government and higher taxes has started a political movement is unquestionably a testament to the high level of disillusionment in establishment politics.


But had Donald Trump not set the tone for outlandish ideas that aren’t scrutinized by the media, Sanders own blue-sky proposals would not be glossed over as they are now, though they will be in a general election. 


Remember Walter Mondale? In 1984, as the Democratic nominee challenging President Ronald Reagan, he said, “Mr. Reagan will raise your taxes and so will I. He won’t tell you and I just did.” Mondale lost in a landslide and carried only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. 


If Sanders is the Democratic nominee, fill in Vermont for Minnesota. 


Speaking to reporters at The Conway Daily Sun, he made an eloquent and convincing case that political revolution and real change always start with grand ideas that inspire grassroots movements, and that he is the torchbearer. 


True enough, but not good enough in 2016, when undecided, moderate voters will decide the election and reject his call for single-payer health care and free college for everyone (even rich kids), once they figure out out how much it will cost them. 


Clinton’s troubles are well-known.  She’s dogged by controversies and doesn’t have charisma that inspires big crowds. 


Twice she has appeared at editorial boards at the Sun — in 2008 and this year. And it is the consensus of the Sun’s reporters and editors that of the dozens of candidates interviewed through the years, Clinton in the flesh is least like her public persona.


In person she is dynamic, personable, if not charming, and exudes the confidence of a person who has been on the world stage, championing progressive issues all her life, which, of course, she has. 


For whatever reason, she does not convey a rock-star persona, though we suspect the public would cringe if a woman waved her arms like an eccentric philosophy professor, like Sanders, or anointed herself a “winner” and spewed schoolyard insults a la Trump. 


And about Clinton’s controversies, we say, so what.  


They are inconsequential in a world littered with bad actors who must be chuckling at the prospect that the potential leader of the free world could be brought down over what she may or may not have told family members at a funeral service for CIA agents killed in Benghazi or because a few messages marked top secret were found on her private email server.


She is tough and a survivor, and those qualities we want in a commander in chief. 


By inspiring and motivating millennials, Sanders has done an invaluable service that in future elections will reap rewards for the Democratic Party.


But in this one, Democrats have a simple choice — win, or lose.

Bush: Extremely electable

OK, now it’s New Hampshire’s turn. 


Ted Cruz beating Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio placing third gives the pundits something to talk about, but given Iowa is renowned for supporting evangelicals and far-right candidates with strong ground games, the results are not all that shocking. 


Thankfully, the caucus results also take away the media’s narrative that Trump will “run the table"’ and sets up New Hampshire — one of the least religious states — as a firewall for moderate Republican governors who had no chance in Iowa: John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. 


Although he so far has underperformed, we believe Bush, with his vast network of establishment support, is the candidate most likely to beat Hillary Clinton.


With Trump’s histrionics dominating so much of the news, it’s easy to forget just how extreme and unelectable the Iowa front-runners are.  


Trump wants to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, ban all Muslims from entering and slap a 45 percent excise tax on China.


Cruz’s military strategy includes carpet bombing parts of Syria. As a true believer, he would take the country on a scary step toward Armageddon in the Middle East. Cruz has the most conservative record in Congress and is disliked by virtually every one of his colleagues in the Senate, two remarkable accomplishments. 


Though Rubio is considered establishment, he is also a warmonger and wants to add a $1 trillion to the military. Not only is his rhetoric about America being in serious decline and ISIS constituting a threat to “hundreds of thousands” of Americans untrue, it is also tiresome. We’re not interested in an Alarmist-in-Chief. 


Bush not only checks all the boxes for conservatives, on both fiscal and social issues, but unlike the front-runners who complain about how Washington doesn’t work and will prove it once they get in, he is conciliatory by nature and has sensible plans on major issues like immigration.


When asked at an editorial board at the Conway Sun whether he’d conduct warfare more like his father or brother, Jeb said he’d build a coalition like his dad’s and take a measured approach, so unlike the warmongering we hear from the front-runners. 


Jeb Bush by nature and upbringing treats people with respect; thus, he’s not particularly good at name-calling. As unimpressive as he looked trading insults with Trump, in person he’s confident, thoughtful and likable, qualities that should not disqualify him as president. 


New Hampshire has the power to get a sensible Republican in the game and keep anti-establishment, far-right candidates from running away with the nomination.


Much more than Iowa, New Hampshire reflects the body politic of American’s tradition of governing from the center, and it is our responsibility to give one of the moderates a chance. 


Our choice for that role is Jeb Bush, a man who can reach out to minorities, women and center-to-right independents — people Republicans need to win back the White House.

Asking Hillary the Gotcha Question

At the opening of her very popular Fox News show last week, "The Kelly File," host Megyn Kelly named the Sun and referenced a question that was asked Hillary Clinton during her visit to our office. A few national and international newspapers, and a slew of conservative blogs, also ran it. 

The question came from Sun columnist Tom McLauglin, who framed it as a device to accuse of Clinton of lying about what she said to family members of the people killed at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in the attack in 2012.

But why would McLaughlin’s question, in particular, attract so much attention when the subject has been beaten to death?

Because McLaughin did what professional journalists don’t do, even those on Fox or MSNBC news. And that is to break an unwritten code not to ask “gotcha” questions, which are designed to entrap interviewees into saying something that damages their character or reputation. 

The best-known journalism school example of a "gotcha" question is, “Did you stop beating your wife?” 

Say yes, and the interviewee denies beating his wife, but the question alone implies he once did. 

Answer no, and it’s an obvious admission.

More on McLaughlin’s question later, but first a little bit about editorial boards.

The candidates stop by the Sun to get free press and ask for our endorsement. If the Sun were a little paper located in Fryeburg, Maine, none would stop in. And, win or lose, come Feb. 5, we will never hear from them again.  

Still, we take our role seriously, endorse candidates we think best represent the Republican and Democratic parties, and consider meeting candidates in person a very special opportunity, if not an “only in America” privilege.  

Such visits are not at all automatic. It takes a tireless effort by reporter Lloyd Jones to work us into a candidate's schedule, especially someone like Clinton, who shows up in a motorcade of a half-dozen big, black SUVs and a full contingent of Secret Service. 

To avoid asking the candidates the same policy questions they've been asked a thousand times, we try to ask what we call contextual questions, the intent of which are to bring out their personalities and leadership styles, qualities we reference in our endorsements. 

It's an informal process. We all grab chairs and basically sit around asking questions. I kick it off with two or three questions, and then the Sun’s reporters and columnists are free to ask what they want.  

On the way out the door, the candidates sign what we have christened “Ice Box One,” a refrigerator used by Sun staffers every day to keep their lunches. This is the third primary for the fridge. It’s sort of our shtick and has gained notoriety. Clinton, who has now signed it twice, wrote in part, “The fridge lives!”  

Through this way of vetting candidates, we’ve learned that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whether asked about his role in the George Washington Bridge scandal or his favorite Bruce Springsteen song, is full of passion and projects a powerful presence.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, contrary to looking weak standing next to Donald Trump at the debates, in person connects with people surprisingly well, coming across as confident, competent and someone you would trust.

Whether Republican or Democrat, we treat them with respect like the invited guests they are. We are not interested in catching them saying something stupid to post on YouTube. 

As a result, many candidates tell us they like the experience, and many have stayed longer than scheduled. Clinton stayed nearly 90 minutes, making her an hour late for a town meeting in Berlin. One of Bush’s advisers, a four-star admiral, told me that because of our engaging and thoughtful questions, our editorial board was the best they've attended. 

Back to McLaughlin.

For years, Clinton has consistently said she didn’t tell the family members that the video that went viral caused the attack in Benghazi. Some family members, who now regularly appear on Fox News, say she did. 

These conversations were held at a large aircraft hanger where President Barack Obama and other officials, including Clinton, met the grieving families, some of whom didn’t yet know their family members had been in the CIA.

The conversations took place in what is probably best described as a receiving line. The conversations apparently weren’t recorded, as they were personal expressions of sympathy, and there is no independent way to prove what was said. 

McLaughlin was well-prepared for the confrontation with Clinton, even reading aloud quotes attributed to some of the family members, and eventually asked her, “Now someone’s lying, who is it?

It was a "gotcha" question, because either she admits she is lying or by saying she didn’t, implies that the families are. Either answer besmirches her character, which was McLauglin's goal, and that was obvious to me and the rest of the staff, as we all cringed. 

In fact, the obvious alternative explanation to either Clinton or the families lying is what Clinton tried to carefully explain — that those conversations are subject to interpretation, and happened during a stressful time and in the “fog of war.” 

In his own column last week, McLaughlin wrote that “few journalists are able to pin her down,” suggesting that he did and that he is a real journalist, adding, “I don’t think she was expecting tough questions.”

Unaware of the irony and the contrast to himself, McLaughlin even quoted to Clinton the version of the video question posed by ABC News anchor George Stephanopolous, who on his show "This Week" asked her directly, and respectfully, “Did you tell them it was about the film?” 

Fair and balanced journalists don’t ask partisan, loaded, "gotcha" questions. It's the reason why McLaughlin’s question became fodder for Fox News. And after hundreds of questions asked to dozens of candidates, the only one of this type ever asked at the Sun. 

Mark Guerringue is the publisher of The Conway Daily Sun.